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Judas and the Black Messiah

R13: Violence, cruelty and offensive language

Spoiler alert

This page outlines how the classification criteria were applied. We do our best to discuss the content while avoiding spoilers, but please avoid reading this information if you do not want to learn anything about the content of this movie.

About the film

Judas and the Black Messiah is a biopic based on the life of activist Fred Hampton, chairman of the Black Panther Party in late 1960s Chicago. In the wake of Martin Luther King Junior’s death, Bill O’Neal is bribed by an FBI agent into infiltrating the Black Panther Party as an informant.

Judas and the Black Messiah

Date registered: 02/03/2021

Classification criteria

Violence, cruelty, and crime

The film deals with the infliction of serious physical harm in several scenes. The impact is generally low, with a couple of moments of more moderate impact. The tone of the violence is one of desperate struggle, focusing on anguished faces rather than physical injury.

An early scene shows O’Neal being stabbed by a man while he is stealing his car. The tip of a knife is shown piercing his dark clothes and we hear a sound indicating stabbing. It isn’t clear that he has been wounded until we later see blood dripping in an interrogation cell. Violence occurs between police and Black Panthers on several occasions. Loud gunfire provides most of the impact during altercations, with injury being conveyed through blood on clothing. At one point police beat arrested party members with batons. Abrasions are shown on their faces.

Stronger violence includes:

• In a jail canteen, there is a man with words cut into his chest. The scene is disturbing but too brief to have a strong impact.
• Jake, a member of Black Panthers, is pursued by police in an outdoor industrial space. An injured policeman begs for his life while Jake stands over him. Jake shoots him below camera, splattering blood on his face, but the injury is not depicted. Shortly after, Jake’s body jerks with the impact of bullets as he is shot from behind. Blood briefly splatters but the dark setting diminishes the impact.

A final scene shows police invading Hampton’s house while he sleeps, shooting through the walls indiscriminately. Bullets are heard ripping through walls but are not shown hitting. Several members of the household are injured. This is conveyed only through blood on their clothing when they try to get up as police instruct them. Hampton’s pregnant girlfriend, Deb, shields Hampton with her body, trying to wake him up, before being pulled from the room, a gun cruelly aimed at her stomach. With the camera focussed on Deb’s face we hear gunshots fired, presumably at Hampton. While the violence inexplicit, the scene is an affecting and disturbing portrayal of the injury and murder of defenceless people.

Further cruelty occurs with references to torture. The FBI condone the torture and murder of a Black Panther member by one of their undercover agents. The agent is said to have poured boiling water on a Black Panther member’s penis and cut it off before killing and dumping his body.

Regarding crime, this is a backdrop to the plot. Early on, O’Neal gets arrested for stealing a car and impersonating a FBI agent. This is a catalyst for him being coerced into being an informant against Hampton. The Black Panthers have large weapons piles but do not use them unless provoked. While Hampton uses rhetoric that could be interpreted as inciting violence, including mentioning killing the police, his actions are anti-violence. He refuses to be tempted to blow up City Hall, saying “Bomb City Hall, they’ll bomb us” and makes his comrades go about unarmed.

Classification criteria

Discrimination and offensive language

While the film contains racist attitudes and systemic prejudice that were common at the time, these are not condoned by the film. The FBI are portrayed as corrupt, racist and cruel. They, and police, are depicted initiating violent altercations and murder. Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, characterises the Black Panther Party as a threat to ‘our way of life’ and asks an employee what he will do when his daughter ‘brings home a negro’. He actively endorses the bribery and assassination of Black people, including the coercion of O’Neil to participate in criminal acts against Hampton. As antagonists, their behaviour and attitudes are in no way supported.

The film also contains frequent use of highly offensive language in everyday conversation. Black characters frequently call friends and comrades ‘motherf**ker’ and ‘n***er’, using these terms not as a slur or insult but in the way one might use ‘friend’. There is an edge of hostility to these terms during points of tension, but they are not openly aggressive. ‘F**k’, ‘s**t’ and their derivatives are also used as intensifiers, for example, ‘What the f**k?’ and ‘F**king idiot’. The extent of the language is likely to have an inuring effect on children and encourage imitation.

Decision Summary

Judas and the Black Messiah is a compelling biopic about the politics of revolution in the late sixties. Highly anticipated, the film will appeal to fans of director, Shaka King, and actors Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield. It has merit both as a piece of art and for its historical relevance to the Black Lives Matter movement.

The film deals with crime, cruelty and violence. The dramatisation of the corruption and racism of the FBI and police is likely to be upsetting to many but is not likely to cause harm. While the violence is generally inexplicit, brief spurts of blood are likely to shock and disturb children. Also of concern is the extensive use of highly offensive language, which is likely to have a normalising and inuring effect on children. Teenagers and adults are more likely to have the maturity to understand when racially-charged offensive language can be used and by whom.

Balancing these harms against the right to freedom of expression, Judas and the Black Messiah is classified R13. This is the lowest reasonable limit on that right in order to prevent injury to the public good.

Contact the Information Unit if you require further information on a classification decision.

R13 label
R13: Violence, cruelty and offensive language